A few things happened today that made me feel like I was back in high school. Unfortunately, this is not the first time since high school that this has happened. In fact, it would be fair to say that since graduating college, I’ve sometimes felt like I’m regressing rather than blossoming into the well-adjusted, socially graceful, and professionally capable young adult the media has led me to believe I should be.
Today provided another reminder that I’m still apparently an awkward person when it comes to conversation. With friends and family it’s obviously not such a problem, but when I’m talking to strangers, I tend to switch up my verb/noun placement and sometimes change my mind about what word I want to use when I’m halfway through the original word. This is exacerbated in the workplace because pretty much all of my coworkers are a good deal more suave than I am, which intimidates me. They’re salespeople, for one thing, which means that they are extroverted and have built careers on their ability to make a conversation go their way. I, on the other hand, am a writer. I’m used to being able to evaluate, criticize, and revise my words before they reach readers’ eyes. Having to hold my own in a conversation with “grown ups” sometimes, well, freaks me out.
It didn’t help that today’s conversation was about menopause.
This morning our office had a big staff meeting, which meant almost all of the realtors were in the building. Most of them are in their fifties or older, and most of them are women. Today also happened to be ridiculously warm for late September – high 80s and humid. Our thermostat can be a pretty touchy (I swear there’s a “warm” 70 degrees and a “cool” 70 degrees), which means there were many adjustments being made to the temperature, not all of them successful. My boss fanned herself with a piece of junk mail, and one of the other women (we’ll call her Mimi) just sat there laughing.
“I’m so glad I’m past that age, lemme tell ya,” she said.
Another woman, closer to my boss’s ages: “Oh yeah, Laura, you got a lot to look forward to.”
Mimi: “Yeah, I know it seems a ways off, but hoo boy, it’s no fun.”
I was trying to be very interested in my paperwork while my mind scrambled for the requisite witty banter. Seriously, how are you supposed to respond to that? I have a mother. Kevin has a mother. Many of my friends have mothers. I have witnessed a hot flash or two. I have seen that one clip from “The Soup” where the menopausing mom uses a fridge door as a fan to cool off her naked hot-flashing self. None of this seemed particularly beneficial to the conversation.
But I had to say something, or I would be forever labeled The Shy One, and I am so done with that label. “Yep…I…have seen how that goes.”
Mimi nodded wisely. “It is no fun. Lemme tell ya.”
So now instead of the The Shy One, I’m probably The Awkward Shy One Who Doesn’t Say Much But God Bless Her She Tries.
Because of that incredibly awkward meeting, I didn’t get a morning break and didn’t even think about lunch until past 12:30. I took an extended break at a nearby park, which was for the most part really great, thanks to the weather. I found a picnic table in the shade and busted out the trusty Moleskine and wrote a bit. This was lovely, until some old fart on a bicycle wheeled past and whistled at me.
Cue Patented Laura Ice Queen Death Glare.
I don’t know what I keep expecting – maybe for the wolf-whistle to become “uncool,” or for men to realize that women are not remotely impressed by wolf-whistling, or maybe for my own self-esteem to suddenly decide that everyone else must be okay with wolf-whistling, because it’s not going away, so I oughta get with the program and stop being so uppity about it. I mean, some women must take it as a compliment, right? Otherwise every whistler would get punched and the practice would die out pretty quickly. It must be flattering for some women, just…not for me. It makes me turn into She Hulk.
So that ruined my break a little. I texted Kevin in a huff and spent the rest of my break glancing around to make sure Creepy Old Biker wasn’t biking up behind me to leer some more.
Fast forward a couple hours. My self-esteem is now thoroughly dragging, having spent the morning being awkward and the afternoon fretting over a silly whistle. I went into my boss’s office to drop off some completed files, with the intent of also asking an unrelated question. Keep in mind that I have a terrible memory. Usually, when someone approaches me with a task, I’ll whip out a notepad and paper and take notes so I don’t accidentally skip a step. Today, though, I went into my boss’s office, handed over the files, and promptly forgot what I was going to ask. I stood awkwardly, trying to remember, and my boss looked up at me.
“Well…I had a question.”
“Oh no, you’re too young to forget!”
“Oh, I wish…give me a minute.”
Of course I remembered, and asked, and got my answer, but it needled at me that on top of everything else today, I was getting teased again about my age. Yes, I am twenty-three and working as a secretary. Yes, I am petite and sometimes shy and prefer staying in with a book to getting wasted and looking for a one-night stand on the weekends. But I’ve been consistently employed for the last nine months, which is more than can be said about thirteen percent of other recent college grads, and I don’t think it’s too much to ask to be taken at least a bit seriously. And that desire to be taken seriously is something I haven’t felt since I was seventeen.
So here’s a question for any older readers who happen to have stopped by, or for any readers my own age: do you ever really feel “grown-up,” or do you always feel like you’re missing out on some joke? How do you cope with it? And how do you feel about the whistling?